OBESITY: BIAS, STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION
There are not only health but social consequences to widespread obesity. Overweight and obese persons are often vulnerable targets of bias and stigma – and at places of work, education, medical care and entertainment. Bias and stigma can be verbal (being the subject of derogatory language) or physical (being the subject of negative behavior. Obesity can trigger outright discrimination or exclusion.
WHERE WEIGHT STIGMA OCCURS
The most common places are employment setting. Studies have shown when a resume is accompanied by a picture of an overweight person they are less likely to be hired. The obese person may be ascribed some stereotypes such a being sloppy or less capable. If hired they may suffer wage discrimination as they tend to be paid less. In school settings students who are overweight may face entrance bias and if accepted, can be more subject to harassment and ridicule. In medical facilities, bias toward obese patients has been documented by physicians and caretakers.
Among the consequences of weight bias and stigma are higher rates of depression, anxiety, isolation and other forms of psychological adjustment. Avoiding medical care services due to stigmatization or not keeping to a weight-loss program due to depression may complicate recovery.
EFFECTS ON CHILDREN
Bias and stigma can affect the emotional development of obese children. Research shows that children who are targets may internalize negative attitudes, losing self-esteem and becoming depressed and isolated. There is also a positive correlation between obesity and a higher rate of suicidal attempts.
STEPS THAT CAN BE TAKEN BY CARETAKERS
Foster psychological support groups to help the obese in the process.
Offer also supportive physical environments – adequate-size chairs, medical equipment and reading materials in waiting rooms
Complement and encourage even small gains. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming just the patent’s behavior as the sole cause for obesity. Acknowledge there are powerful cultural, social and economic influences – and great difficulties thus to be overcome. Approach patients with personal sensitivity, considering they may have experienced bias from other health care providers, family and friends.
Set concrete achievement targets and complement small weight losses or other accomplishments toward those aims.
In addition to evaluating one’s effectiveness in setting the above, it is useful to evaluate and eliminate the service provider’s own bias, considering any preconceptions about a patient’s character, intelligence, behavior, likelihood for success, health condition, and so on.
Puhrl R. Brownell and Rudd L. Schwartz, Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences and Remedies.